3 Goals to Accomplish Before Attending College


I remember college. It was a time in my life where I had no clue what I wanted to do when I “grew up,” and it was simply scary. I had student loan debt, no emergency fund, and felt like I didn’t have a firm foundation to launch from into the real world. If I had only known these three things before attending school, I would have been in a much better position!

Perhaps you’re like I was. You’re in school but you don’t know what job you truly want to land, and you’re accruing debt up to your eyeballs. I suggest to those of you who are living on your own (or even living with your parents still) to step back away from college and accomplish these three goals before you continue your education.

This isn’t for everyone. It’s certainly not for the faint of heart. But I can assure you that if you accomplish these three goals before attending college, you’ll have less stress and a stronger ability to focus on your schoolwork.

1. Shield yourself from the storm (fully fund your emergency fund)!

Having an emergency fund while in college is so very important. The last thing you want to do in college is have to decide whether to pay for your broken transmission or buy your textbooks.

So how much money do you need in your fund? I tend to agree with Dave Ramsey when he says to have 3 to 6 months worth of expenses in an emergency account.

2. Erase the red ink (pay off all your non-mortgage debt)!

Alright, this is going to be a hard one for many of you to swallow. I believe with all my heart that going to college while in debt puts you at a severe disadvantage. Let’s take a look at two types of debt you shouldn’t have while in college:

  • Non-mortgage debt you have to pay for while in college. This could include car loans, former student loans, personal loans, business loans, etc. Having to pay for this debt while you’re going to school makes it very difficult to cash flow college (which we’ll get to in a minute).
  • Non-mortgage debt that is deferred until after graduation. Typically, student loan payments are deferred until after you graduate. I believe this puts you at a severe disadvantage because when you graduate, you’ll be more likely to take whatever job you can get your hands on because you desperately need the money. Not having to pay for student loans after college opens up your opportunities and allows you to say “No” to those jobs with minimal pay.

3. Create and implement a master plan (cash flow college)!

“Whoa, whoa, whoa. Wait a minute John. Are you saying that people shouldn’t take out student loans and instead pay for college with cash?”

Yep, that’s what I’m saying. Here’s why:

I’ve watched too many of my friends struggle with student loan payments after college. Either they don’t land the dream job they thought they were going to get, or they have no interest in what they originally attended college for in the first place and decide to pursue other ambitions.

This is why I advocate creating a master plan. My wife is currently going back to college and we had to come up with a formula to determine how much money we needed to save up before she goes to college.

In general, you’ll need to consider two things:

  • How much income are you going to lose when you or your spouse goes back to college? Let’s pretend that amount is $40,000.
  • How much money will you have to spend on college as you’re going to college? Let’s pretend that amount is $20,000.
Now, take these two amounts and add them together: $60,000. That’s the amount of money you’ll have to burn through during the time you’re in college. You’ll then have to ask yourself the difficult questions such as:
  • How much of this amount can I cash flow with my remaining income over the course of college?
  • Can I cut my expenses to help cash flow part of this money?
  • Can I work a different job while in college to cover part of these expenses?
  • Should I put on hold my 401k or other retirement plans in order to accomplish these short term goals?
Get creative. With some work, you’ll figure out a way to cover that $60,000 loss (actually, consider it an investment in your future). You’ll need to figure out how much money you need before attending school, and how much money you’ll have to throw at college while attending school.

What’s Your Story?

This was a risky article. I know it’s almost heresy in today’s culture to mention college without student loans. But I want to hear from those of you who have cash-flowed college. We’re currently doing it, and making heavy sacrifices to do so.

Meet us in the comments, and let’s discuss some ways that you have payed for college with cash. Or, maybe you have questions for the rest of the ChristianPF community on your particular situation. Let’s talk about it. I can’t wait!

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  1. sokun

    Great post, i agree with paying off all your non-mortgage debt. That one hurts the most as it is usually higher in interest and mostly unneccessary.

  2. Mike Hughes

    I couldn’t agree with you more. My wife went through college as a single mother. (Before we met) She had done her very best to stay debt free, but still had some credit card debt. She believed student loans were the way to manage all her debt. She graduated with $15,000 worth of student loans plus a modest car payment. During the next three years of working, she paid off the car, lived, bought and sold her first house with a tidy $20,000 profit. She
    “took the money and ran” to law school. Still a single mother, she worked full-time, (quietly against the rules) and eventually graduated with a consolidated grand total of $70,000 in student loan debt. Then she married her first husband, bought a beautiful home with him, had two more children and had to work to make the student loan payments. You’d think a lawyer wouldn’t be so strapped, especially married to an engineer. Two good and faithful Christians managed to just keep up with the payments and nothing more. All the while having to pay daycare which grated on my wife’s nerves. Eventually, they divorced over the debt load and the work load. After the divorce, they both filed bankruptcy. The first child now an adult, I met my wife, a single mom with two kids, bankrupted credit report and a defaulted student loan. Now after the default and the accumulated interest, her student loan balance is now $120,000. This, I get to pay, so my wife can stay home with her two children from a previous marriage. I pondered this quite seriously before marrying her. I love her and can afford this. But in my more quiet moments, I ponder the plight of her first husband, a good man. Debt, which we are commanded by God to avoid, cost this good, well-intentioned Christian, to lose his family. Now that’s an expensive interest rate.

  3. Amy

    Nice post! You’re not the only one paying for college with cash. My husband and I both did that as well. It wasn’t an easy road, or traditional but we’ve never had to take out a student loan. It took me about 10 years to get a 4yr degree but I worked full time through most of it and went to school part time. Work paid for about 50%, I had scholarships pay for about 25% and then we paid out of pocket for the remainder. I graduated last year with high honors and a degree that’s directly related to my field.

    My husband has been going to school on the GI Bill after serving in active duty military. They pay for all his courses as well as books and give us a small stipend to help make up for lost wages. It’s an awesome deal and well worth the 4yrs he put in. He graduates this December.

  4. Jonathan K

    In college I was fortunate enough to have scholarships, savings, and help from family to pay for expenses.

    I would recommend creating a budget and sticking with it. Spend less than you are making. Don’t go to every college function. Get a part-time job or work-study for every day expenses or to help with tuition.

    While many of my fellow classmates added student loans and a new car payment when graduation came along I kept my “old” vehicle from college. It has been a great relief not to have student loans over my head going into marriage.

    Also, a great idea would be to go to a community college for the first couple of years (especially if you don’t have scholarships) then transferring into a bigger school. You will pay only a fraction of the cost and still get your basic courses out of the way.

  5. pan

    Neither my husband nor I have ever had any student loans and we both have higher degrees. Below is our experience…for what it’s worth.

    I was lucky and my parents paid for my undergrad. They are far from wealthy, and looking back, I think they’ve suffered financially because of it (i.e. they’re retired but still have a house payment because of paying for my college), but it was something they wanted to do. Of course I’m grateful for their sacrifice. For my Master’s, I worked full time and only took two classes at a time (online–but not some lame program), so I was able to pay for everything myself. I’ll be graduating with my Master’s in a semester and will have never had a student loan.

    This won’t go for everyone, but my husband is a really good example of getting through school without student loans. He’s a bit of a brainiac and applied for some scholarships when he started college. He only got a half scholarship for the first semester, which actually pissed him off a bit, so he worked super hard and from his second semester of his undergrad all the way through his PhD, he’s had a full tuition scholarship (yes, that’s right, he got his BA, MA & PhD paid for).

    The advice he wants to give our children, and anyone who will listen, is you should treat school like a job, even in high school. You can either work at a real job and earn money to save for college, or you can work your tail off at school, apply for scholarships, and reap the payments that way. Mind you, my husband is not a prime candidate for a scholarship–he’s white, middle class (not upper!), and he’s a dude. Like I said, won’t work for everyone, but there are all types of scholarships, and it does work for some.

  6. Soul Stops

    Between work and scholarships without parental help but God’s grace, I made it through college debt-free. I did take out the smallest possible loan for grad school, which I paid off as soon as possible.

    Good for you and your family for trusting God and His promises enough to actually practice it!


  7. jbledsoejr

    Great post! I agree with all 3 points. We have 3 children, the oldest being 11, and I never even thought about having an emergency fund set up for them. Great idea that we will begin working on ASAP.
    One part of our “master plan” for our kids is to develop a spending plan for the kids when they are a certain age and use “allowance” to as their income…that will be based on what we normally spend on them for the month. They’ll be responsible to manage that money with our guidance so when they leave home they a spending plan will be already something they understand and do.